Abul A’la Maududi (1903–1979) was an influential Islamic revivalist, Islamist thinker, prolific author and political activist, and founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist political organization that has profoundly shaped the Islamic character of Pakistan. Among Islamists globally, Maududi was one of the first to articulate a modern Islamic political vision and to forge a path independent of both traditional Islamic leadership (the ‘Ulama) as well as nationalist leaders. His writing and political life had an important impact on global Islamism, inspiring others across the Muslim world, both Sunni and Shi’a alike.
In colonial India, Maududi sought to unify the disparate elements of the Indian Muslim communities into a single broad community grounded in a shared Islamic identity with a unified political vision. Though initially a nationalist who supported a united India, he reacted to the growth of Hindu nationalist movements by taking a defensive communalist stance that emphasized the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims. Even with this in mind, he and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) did not originally promote a separate Muslim state—rather, he envisioned India as an Islamic state itself. At independence, the JI redirected its energies to promote the Islamization of the Pakistani state and Maududi shifted from being an ideologue to being a political activist.
Maududi was born in the city of Awrangabad in west-central India into a Sunni Muslim family with deep roots in the Chishti Sufi brotherhood, and a number of family members were spiritual masters (pirs) within the order. In his youth he encountered and studied with numerous Islamic scholars, and in the 1920s was drawn to the Ahl-i Hadith, an Islamic movement that emphasized puritanical reform. Deobandism had a strong influence on Maududi, and he graduated as a Deobandi scholar (‘alim) in 1926. However, he never referred to himself as a member of the ‘Ulama, regarding them as failing to address the needs of the modern Muslim community. Though the Deobandis took a stance against Sufism (and Barelvism), Maududi himself did not, seeking instead to redefine Sufism to fit his Deobandi worldview. In his thinking, Sufism became a moral code meant to instill self-discipline as opposed to an esoteric Islamic reality, which complemented his conception of an ideal Muslim.
Jon Armajani, Dynamic Islam: Liberal Muslim Perspectives in a Transational Age (Lanham: University Press of America, 2004).
Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).